by Andrew Laxton
Having spent the best part of two decades partnering on product marketing campaigns for brands like New Balance, ECCO and even those funky Croslite™ resin Crocs that everyone loves to hate, it’s been interesting to see how the footwear and sports apparel sector has responded to the growing consumer demand for responsible manufacturing and eco-friendly products.
Consumer fads have traditionally changed at lightning speed but we are now seeing a dramatic shift towards favouring products that are associated with good causes, and it looks as though this behavioural change is here for the long run. In 2012, when I was fortunate to be involved in the global launch of New Balance-owned Warrior Sports’ record-breaking £125 million kit deal with Liverpool Football Club I saw the positive impact of ethical product marketing first-hand. Such is the size of Liverpool’s fan base in South East Asia, Singapore’s iconic Fullerton Hotel was chosen for the kit unveiling which featured Wales and Liverpool striker Craig Bellamy as brand ambassador. Part of the reveal stunt involved Bellamy launching footballs from a purpose-built, 2nd floor podium beside the hotel’s open-air infinity pool down onto the roof of a branded bumboat (a traditional Singapore barge and, yes, that’s what they’re called) floating on the river below.
Despite all the fanfare and hype surrounding the launch, what really caught my eye was how future thinking the kit designers at Warrior Sports had been. The kit featured a sustainable textile yarn made from disused coffee ground fibre. Why, you may ask? Well, Taiwanese textile company Singtex found that coffee grounds provided better odour control, improved UV protection and offered amazing moisture wicking properties, allowing the material to absorb and expel sweat quicker, keeping the kit lightweight at all times and, therefore, optimizing player performance.
Using sustainable material in the garment and footwear industry is not new but it’s now beginning to grow in popularity and demand. For years local communities in the Himalayas have been spinning giant stinging nettles to create a fair trade, eco-friendly fabric. In 1993 Patagonia became the first outdoor clothing manufacturer to make recycled polyester from plastic bottles and went on to famously coin the phrase ‘transforming trash into fleeces’ as part of its brand positioning.
French designer Veja has taken the footwear industry by storm with a bold and principled positioning since introducing its range of iconic trainers made from recycled plastic bottles and wild rubber. Veja has built a cult following around its principled approach to fair trade sourcing and the use of organic materials – go to any celebrity hang out in London, Paris or New York and you’ll be hard pressed not to find an A-lister wearing a pair of trainers featuring the distinctive V logo.
Even the granddaddy of the performance footwear market, Nike, has jumped on the bandwagon by releasing the Space Hippie range which it claims has the lowest carbon footprint scores ever. Made from recycled materials and scrap material taken from its factory floors, which the brand has named ‘Space Junk’, Nike says the Space Hippie is the first step towards fully deploying the process of a circular economy, which aims to eliminate waste and pollution from manufacturing.
There’s still a long way to go before we see all brands following a similar path but consumer demand is already here and it’s only going to grow. But this is not a sprint, it’s not even a marathon; it’s a longer, continuous journey and those who put purpose before profit are likely to cross the finishing line in a winning position.